Learn how to find more about your family history in old newspapers at Newspapers.com. In this video Jenny Ashcraft from Newspapers.com joins me. She will share not only her 5 best search strategies, but also some amazing stories and items she’s found that will inspire you!
Limited time offer: use the code “genealogygems” at checkout at Newspapers.com to get 20% off today.
Vital records like birth, marriage and death records are critical for family history research. But newspapers can also provide the stories and the context that helps bring your ancestors experiences to life. Here’s my interview with Jenny Ashcraft from newspapers.com. (Please note: This interview transcription has been minimally altered for ease of reading and clarity.)
Types of Information Found in Old Newspapers
Lisa: Newspapers can require a bit more effort to search than other genealogical records. Before we jump into your search strategies, why you think that newspapers are worth the effort?
Jenny: Newspapers really were the social media of their day. They were the number one source for news.
When the civil war started, people found out through the newspapers. When a huge 1859 solar storm hit planet earth, nobody had any idea why the sky was filled with colorful auroras so bright that the middle of the night turned bright as day, until they read the newspaper. And newspapers reported on local news, like who was visiting from out of town and who was on the sick list. They reported on tragic accidents and deaths and births and marriages and family reunions. Newspapers provide details about your family history. That for me brings such a sense of gratitude. I have learned things about my ancestors through newspapers.com that just amaze me. I stand in awe of the challenges they faced and each time I search, I’m reminded that I drink every day from a well that I did not dig.
Genealogy Gems Found in Newspapers
(2:00) Lisa: That’s so true. I bet you found a lot of gems in your job, which is probably just a dream job for most genealogists, working at newspapers.com. What kinds of things have you found?
Jenny: You’re right, it is kind of a dream job. It’s so fun. Let me share a quick personal story.
My third great grandfather and his brother immigrated to the United States in 1866. They were just 16 and 20 years old. As they were boarding their ship in Germany, the first ship became overcrowded, and hey ushered some of the passengers onto a second ship. In that chaos, these two brothers became separated and ended up on different ships. They would not see each other again for years.
Carl Fink arrived here in the United States alone at just 16 years old. He made his way to Illinois, where he eventually became a farmer. He got married, he had nine children, and I just learned a lot about his life through newspaper articles. He died in 1918. But I had never seen a photograph of him. I have searched newspapers.com, and I thought I had seen every available story about Karl Fink. But one day I came across a photograph, and it was printed in a 1966 paper, nearly 50 years after his death. The photo was originally taken in 1885, and it shows Carl Fink and his four oldest sons with their horses. It was published under a headline Sketches from Yesterday. Well, you can just imagine what an absolute thrill to find the only photograph that I have ever seen of this ancestor!
Lisa: That’s amazing! Oh my gosh, you must have been doing a genealogy happy dance all over your house!
Top Strategies for Searching at Newspapers.com
(4:02) You have whetted our appetites! I’d love to hear what some of your best strategies that you use when you’re doing your newspaper research.
Jenny: Well, I think the best thing to do is just start on the homepage. Type your ancestors name in the search box.
Tip #1: Search Name Variations
One thing you have to remember is to use the name as it would have appeared in the newspaper. If your ancestor was named, let’s say Charles Ellis Roper, he may be referred to as:
- Chas. Roper
- Ellis Roper
Try all kinds of variations until you find success.
Tip #2: Narrow Results by Location
Next, try to narrow your results by location. Did Charles live in South Carolina? You can narrow the results by the state, the county, the city, even a specific newspaper and you can also filter those results by dates.
Once you have found your ancestor, then the magic begins. The connections just start to flow. Back then families tended to stick together. So, you will often find relatives living nearby.
Tip #3: Search for Female Ancestors
Newspapers are a great way also do identify our female ancestors. As genealogist know, researching women can be hard! They were often referred to by their husband’s names, like in this particular clipping about Mrs. Mitchell and Mrs. John Weamer.
But you know, through my research, I have learned that Mrs. Mary Mitchell is really my direct ancestor who was Mary Miller, she married James Mitchell. In this clipping we learned that she died in the home of her sister, Mrs. John Weamer. Well, I know that this is Martha Miller Weamer, my third great aunt.
Tip #4: Search the Obituary and Wedding Indexes
One of the most amazing ways to learn about our ancestors is through obituaries and wedding announcements. Using machine learning algorithms, Newspapers.com has developed a technology to identify 250 million obituaries, and 67 million marriage announcements in our archives. You may have seen hints for these on your ancestor trees. You can now go to Newspapers.com and search for all of your ancestors in either the obituary index, or the wedding index.
These records are full of wonderful family details and relationships. Let me just show you how this works.
For example, that newspaper clipping talked about Mrs. John Weamer. Well, I know that Mrs. John Weamer is my third great aunt, who was Martha Miller Weamer. So, I want to go to the obituary index and search for Martha.
To do that, I just typed in her name to see what I could find. I came up with 16,000 results. Now that’s going to take some time to go through. But one thing so cool is that we can click on the Result Type filter below the search box and click on Obituaries. Now I’m in the obituary index, and it looks like I got four results. In this case, the dates of the articles are all the same. I found four obituaries for my ancestor Martha Weamer!
Lisa: Fantastic. And can you also click on the map? Will that also narrow the location?
Jenny: Yes. When I first came up with those results for Martha Weamer there’s also a map of the United States. On the map, you will see that there’s different shades of pinks, and reds. This means that the lighter color states has articles mentioning Martha Weamer but maybe a fewer number. In this case there were five in Colorado, and nine in Wyoming. Well, Martha is from Pennsylvania. When I over hover Pennsylvania it tells me that there are 5000 mentions of Martha Weamer. So that state of Pennsylvania has been highlighted as red to show you that there’s a concentration of her name found in newspapers in Pennsylvania.
Lisa: That’s really handy. And it’s also handy if by chance she was from another state originally or had a lot of family in another state because then you there’s a possibility that her obituary could be shared in a newspaper from her previous hometown.
Jenny: That happened all the time. And as a matter of fact, on this woman, Martha Weamer, she actually moved from Pennsylvania to Idaho. And when she died, these obituaries were printed in the Pennsylvania paper where she came from and not in the Idaho papers.
Tip #5: Search for Emigration Details
(9:41) Lisa: One of the things that folks often have trouble with is passenger lists immigration information. Newspapers could be a source for that too, could it not?
Jenny: Absolutely! Newspapers is a great source for that. You know before air travel became more common in the 1950s, ships were the primary mode of intercontinental travel. And one of the most important records we know for tracking our immigrant ancestor is a passenger list. Well, passenger lists include things like the name, their origin, where the voyage originated, a passenger’s birth date, departure date, and arrival date. What is so cool is that you can take those details that you find on a passenger list over to Newspapers.com and learn all types of insights about their journey.
For example, what if you wanted to know Why did my ancestor emigrate? What caused them to come? Well, a search of newspapers might provide insights into events that led to your ancestor’s emigration. For example, if you look in our Irish newspapers, in the 1840s, you’re going to find heartbreaking stories about the potato famine. I found a clipping reporting in a specific parish the number of deaths in that parish. It says, “number of seen to be known to be occasioned by the famine, about 200. And several instances have occurred in this parish, where almost all the members of families being carried off from the effects of the famine.” So, this can help you understand why your ancestor may have chosen to emigrate to begin with.
Lisa: Absolutely! I’ve even had success using the name of the ship and searching for that. The article may not mention my ancestor specifically, but I could find information potentially, about the voyage.
Jenny: You absolutely can. I also love when I have the name of the ship, which is on the passenger list, and I can take that information and the coordinating dates, and start searching for that ship. What was the voyage like? Were there rough seas? Did people die during the journey? Newspapers would often report on conditions of the passage, illness on the ship, weather, and deaths.
Occasionally, we might even find dramatic stories. One of them that comes to mind was the Ocean Monarch. The Ocean Monarch was an immigrant ship that departed from Liverpool in 1848 bound for Boston. During the journey a fire broke out on the ship, and it just started to engulf the ship. The passengers jumped into the ocean, and 180 of them perished. The newspapers are just filled with dramatic survivor accounts. And some of them just broke my heart. I remember reading one about a mother who was clinging to her little baby, hanging onto some debris, as the ship is burning beside her. A wave crested over and she lost grip of the baby and lost the baby into the waves. Talk about bringing a story to life! If this is your ancestor, you can kind of get an understanding of what their experiences were during that voyage.
Lisa: Amazing. Newspapers really are one-of-a-kind sorts of records, aren’t they?
Jenny: They really are because you’re not going to find those kinds of details in a passenger list. They are not going to have interviews with somebody that just landed on the shores, or they’re not going to describe a joyful reunion between a brother and sister. I just read an immigration article just the other day where a brother and a sister reunited in New Orleans. They hadn’t seen each other for 12 years! It describes this joyful reunion and they didn’t recognize each other because it had been so long. These are just wonderful, rich stories that can really help you put together your ancestor’s story.
Lisa: And we could find newspaper articles at the port of arrival as well, couldn’t we?
Jenny: Oh, that is such a great tip. Let’s just think of an example here. If you had an ancestor that arrived in New York City in August of 1906, and you went to the New York papers, you will learn that the city was experiencing a terrible heatwave. It was like 106 degrees. And the New York Tribune reported that there were ships that arrived at Ellis Island. They arrived on a Sunday and Ellis Island port of arrival was closed. So, the passengers had to wait in the sweltering holds of the ship and wait for Ellis Island to open. The paper reported that by the time that Ellis Island reopened the following day, these mothers and children were disembarking and coming out of the holes of the ship and collapsing in the heat. Now, if this is your ancestor, you suddenly have this whole story and narrative. You connect, and you realize the sacrifices and what these immigrant ancestors endured to come and emigrate, and now we stand on their shoulders.
(15:54) Lisa: You’re right, where else would you hear that!
Well, I know that you write for Newspapers.com and you help people use the website and learn more about these kinds of stories. Where can folks find you?
Jenny: You can check out our blog, which is called Fish Wrap. If you Google fish wrap, you will find our blog. We try to fill that blog with amazing tips and stories, and things that would be interesting for people who are learning to use newspapers or experienced newspaper users.
Lisa: And everybody can become an experienced newspaper user because you guys have a free trial, is that right? So, they can just go in and sign up for an account and use it for seven days for free?
Jenny: Absolutely. You can sign up for a seven day trial. Check it out, see if you can find your ancestor. See if you can locate some of those gems that will help you break through those genealogical roadblocks. This is a great way to enrich the story that you’re trying to tell with your vital records.
Learn More about Using Newspapers.com with Lisa
I hope that whetted your appetite for using old newspapers for finding your family history. The next step is to join me for a special deep dive into using the website. Genealogy Gems Premium Members can join me for a special live show, which includes the live chat, on February 3, 2022 at 11:00 am CT. It will be followed up by a video replay that members can watch on demand. Look for more details in our next newsletter.
If you’re not a premium member yet, oh my gosh, what are you waiting for? I hope you’ll join us. Just click here to learn more about what we have to offer. It is a full year’s access to all the premium content.
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Here’s the latest DNA update quoted from Ancestry®:
Ancestry® Expands Reference Panel to Deliver More Precise Results and New Regions
“Today, Ancestry® announced their latest update to AncestryDNA® ethnicity estimates.
This update was made possible thanks to an increase in the AncestryDNA reference panel.
The reference panel is now more than double its previous size with samples from more places around the world, allowing Ancestry to determine ethnic breakdowns with a higher degree of precision.
New ethnicity estimates will roll out to new and existing customers over several months, resulting in these potential developments for customers.”
New Ethnicity Regions
From their blog post:
“For example, previously we had North and South America as two large regions: Native American–Andean and Native American–North, Central, South.
With this new update, we are able to refine the areas into 11 smaller ones.
If you received one of the older regions before, your new report will most likely have one of the newer, more precise regions instead like Indigenous Eastern South America, Indigenous Cuba, and Indigenous Americas–Mexico, among others.”
More Global Regions
“This advancement will enable AncestryDNA to deliver even more regions globally to enhance the experience across diverse populations including improvements and region realignment in West Africa, northwestern Europe, the Americas, Oceania, and South Asia.”
When You Will See the Update
“It’s important to note that we are phasing the update over time to ensure individual attention is given to delivering each result; therefore, some may see results earlier or later than others.”
Read the Full Announcement
Get all the details on this new update announcement by reading their article Ancestry® Expands Reference Panel to Deliver More Precise Results and New Regions.
List of AncestryDNA® Regions
“More than 1,000 global regions make up the ethnicities displayed in our DNA test. As DNA science improves, the number of regions we test for (and the countries covered in each region) may change.
This article lists each region, but to see which areas of the globe are included in the regions, you’ll need to view the list from your DNA Story page (which will highlight an area of the map when you click a region).
To see all the regions, click See other regions tested at the bottom of your ethnicity estimate and click on a region on the next page.
Ethnicity Estimate FAQ
Check out the interactive map and watch the explanatory video: FAQ for new AncestryDNA ethnicity estimate.
Results May Vary, Here’s an Example
If you’ve taken a DNA test, you may have received different ethnicity results than you expected and different from your family members. DNA expert Diahan Southard explains why this happens in the Genealogy Gems article “Results May Vary:” One Family’s DNA Ethnicity Percentages. Click here to start reading now.
Click here to pick from our vast collection of DNA articles including DNA Ethnicity Accuracy: How It’s Getting More Specific.
Get the DNA SUPER BUNDLE: 10 Quick Reference genetic genealogy guides by Diahan Southard at the Genealogy Gems store.
What Do You Think?
Have you noticed the update in your AncestryDNA® account? Did this update deliver any surprises? Please leave a comment below and share what you learned.
The Genealogy Gems Podcast
with Lisa Louise Cooke
In this episode, I’m celebrating the 100th episode of another podcast I host: the Family Tree Magazine podcast. So I’ll flashback to one of my favorite interviews from that show, an inspiring get-in-shape conversation for your research skills: how you can strengthen your research muscles and tone those technology skills to find and share your family history.
Listen now – click the player below
More episode highlights:
- News on Chronicling America and Scotland’s People;
- Comments from guest expert Lisa Alzo on millions of Czech records that have recently come online;
- A YouTube-for-genealogy success story from a woman I met at a conference;
- An excerpt from the Genealogy Gems Book Club interview with Chris Cleave, author of Everyone Brave is Forgiven;
- Diahan Southard shares a DNA gem: the free website GEDmatch, which you might be ready for if you’ve done some DNA testing.
NEWS: GENEALOGY WEBSITE UPDATES
- Scotland’s People
- Findmypast.com: Scottish records
- Chronicling America
- Chronicling America: New state partners join the program
- Chronicling America: Expanding its current scope
- MyHeritage Adds DNA Matching
NEW RECORDS ONLINE: FREE CZECH RECORDS AT FAMILYSEARCH.ORG
- Czech Republic Church Records 1552-1963
- Czech Republic Land Records 1450-1889
- Czech Republic School Registers 1799-1953
On browse-only records:
Though not fully indexed, the new Czech browse-only records number over 4 million. Click here learn how to use browse-only collections on FamilySearch.org.
Lisa Alzo, Eastern European genealogy expert and author of the new book The Family Tree Polish, Czech and Slovak Genealogy Guide comments on the significance of these records coming online:
“These records are a real boon for Czech researchers because at one time the only to get records such as these was to write to an archive and taking a chance on getting a response or spending a lot of money to hire someone to find the records or to travel there yourself to do research in the archives.
The church records contain Images and some indexes of baptisms/births, marriages, and deaths that occurred in the Roman Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran, and Reformed Church parishes, as well as entries in those registers for Jews.
Land transactions containing significant genealogical detail for a time period that predates parish registers. The collection includes records from regional archives in Opava and Tebo and from the district archive in Trutnov.
School registers contain the full name for a child, birth date, place of birth, country, religion and father’s full name, and place of residence.
While researchers should keep in mind that not everything is yet online, and FamilySearch will likely add to its collection, having these records from FS is an amazing resource for anyone whose ancestors may have come from these areas. And hopefully, there are more records to come!”
GENEALOGY GEMS NEWS
Story of My Life by Sunny Morton, life story-writing journal available as a print workbook and as a writeable pdf e-book
Genealogy Gems app users: For those of you who listen to this show through the Genealogy Gems app, your bonus handout is a PDF document with step-by-step instructions and helpful screenshots for Google image search on mobile devices. The Genealogy Gems app is FREE in Google Play and is only $2.99 for Windows, iPhone and iPad users
Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagic family history software. From within RootsMagic, you can search historical records on FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com. In the works: RootsMagic will be fully integrated with Ancestry.com, too: you’ll be able to sync your RootsMagic trees with your Ancestry.com trees and search records on the site.
Keep your family history research, photos, tree software files, videos and all other computer files safely backed up with Backblaze, the official cloud-based computer backup system for Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems. Learn more at http://www.backblaze.com/Lisa.
Review your search results especially those that pop up in the Images category.
MAILBOX: Robin’s YouTube Success Story
YouTube video with Robyn’s father: Cleves, Ohio: Edgewater Sports Park
The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, 2nd edition has an entire chapter on using YouTube to find family history in historical videos
MAILBOX: FEEDBACK ON THE PODCASTS
Free, step-by-step podcast for beginners and a “refresher” course: Family History: Genealogy Made Easy
SHAPING UP WITH SUNNY MORTON
Family Tree Magazine Podcast celebrates 100th episode
Sunny Morton has get-in-shape advice for us from strengthening research skills to toning tech muscles–from the article “Shaping Up” featured in the March 2010 issue of Family Tree Magazine.
More resources for genealogy education:
- Genealogy Gems Premium eLearning membership
- Family Tree University
- National Genealogical Society Educational Courses
- Boston University Programs in Genealogical Research
- Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree annual conference
GENEALOGY GEMS BOOK CLUB: Everyone Brave is Forgiven, the best-selling novel by British author Chris Cleave. A love story set in World War II London and Malta. This story is intense, eye-opening and full of insights into the human experience of living and loving in a war zone?and afterward. Everyone Brave is Forgiven is inspired by love letters exchanged between the author’s grandparents during World War II.
Click here for more Genealogy Gems Book Club titles
MyHeritage.com is the place to make connections with relatives overseas, particularly with those who may still live in your ancestral homeland. Click here to see what MyHeritage can do for you: it’s free to get started.
The genetic genealogy community has a crush. A big one. Everyone is talking about it. “It has such great features.” says one. “It has a chromosome browser!” exclaims another. “It’s FREE!” they all shout. What are they talking about? GEDmatch. GEDmatch is a mostly free online tool where anyone with autosomal DNA test results from 23andMe, FTDNA, and AncestryDNA can meet and share information. All you need to do is download your data from your testing company and upload it into your newly created GEDmatch account.GEDmatch is set up just like your testing company in that it provides two kinds of reports: ethnicity results, and a match list. Remember that ethnicity results, meaning those pie charts that report you are 15% Italian and 32% Irish, are based on two factors: a reference population and fancy math. GEDmatch has gathered data from multiple academic sources to provide you with several different iterations of ethnicity reports. This is like getting a second (and third and fourth, etc) opinion on a science that is still emerging. It is a fun exercise, but will likely not impact your genealogy research very much. The more important match list does allow you to see genetic cousins who have tested at other companies. Of course, only those who have downloaded their results and entered them into GEDmatch will show up on your list. This means GEDmatch has the potential to expand your pool of genetic cousins, increasing your chances of finding someone to help you track down that missing ancestor. Many also flock to GEDmatch because they were tested at AncestryDNA and thus do not have access to a chromosome browser. A chromosome browser allows you to visualize the physical locations that you share with someone else. Some find this to be a helpful tool when analyzing their DNA matches (though in my opinion, it is not essential).GEDmatch also has some great genealogy features that let you analyze your pedigree against someone else’s, as well as the ability to search all the pedigree charts in their system so you can look specifically for a descendant of a particular relative.However, even with all of these great features, GEDmatch is still yet another website you have to navigate, and with that will be a learning curve, and certainly some frustration. So, is it worth it? If you are fairly comfortable with the website where you were tested, and you are feeling both curious and patient, I say go for it.It’s too much to try to tell you right this minute how to download your data from your testing site and upload it to GEDmatch. BUT you’re in luck, I’ve put step-by-step instructions for getting started in a FREE tutorial on my website at www.yourDNAguide.com/transferring.
Genealogy Gems Podcast turns 200: Tell me what you think?
As we count down to the 200th episode of the free Genealogy Gems Podcast, what have been YOUR favorite things about the podcast? Any particular topics, interviews or segments of the show? What keeps you coming back? What would you like to hear more of? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a voicemail at (925) 272-4021, or send mail to: P.O. Box 531, Rhome, TX 76078.
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